Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer Novels

Summer novels are here. Legendary espionage maestro and assassin Gabriel Allon leads the way in Daniel Silva's The English Spy. ‘

“That’s the problem with revenge, Christopher. It never makes you feel better.”

“That’s true,” said Keller. “And I’m just getting started.”

And try Don Winslow’s powerful drug fight back follow up to the amazing ‘Power of the Dog’ – The Cartel.

Andreas Norman’s  Into A Raging Blaze is a worth a read too…”Your friends are not who they say they are.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The World As We Know It

One hundred years ago something changed dramatically the course of photography…the first Leica was born. Leica took the camera out of the studio and placed it into real life. We were able to see, to feel, to smell…thousands of moments. It became an extension of the eye of the photographer. Joy, pain, ordinary things, fear, losers, winners, misery… The most iconic images in history, even the ones that weren’t taken with a Leica, were taken because of the Leica.

The Leica made photography accessible. It gave people the ability to augment real life, personally, by capturing the banal and the beautiful in one single shot. Not only that, it gave us a glimpse into how other people see the world, and a view of the world that we might never have been able to see with the naked eye.  Visual artist John Paul Caponigro explains: “Because of photography the world of images became more like the way we see it and our understanding of the world itself became less like the way we see it.”

One-hundred years on, photographs continue to transport us into unseen and unimaginable worlds. Images have power. “By wresting a precious particle of the world from time and space and holding it absolutely still, a great photograph can explode the totality of our world, such that we never see it quite the same again,” said Robert Draper, contributing writer for the National Geographic. In much the same way that the Leica did in 1925, today the smartphone brings photography to the masses.

Who would have thought the marriage between a phone and a camera would be a match made in heaven? Who would want that? Everyone it seems. We’re now living in a digital world where millions of pictures are taken and uploaded online every minute. Everyone and everything is a subject. We document and authenticate our lives through taking photographs and sharing them online. ‘I was there’. ‘Look at me’.

Images still have power, but in a slightly different way. We use them to communicate and to share aspects of real life, thanks to Leica’s foresight in bringing the camera out of the studio and into our lives. And just like we have our own personal collections of photographs we covet dearly, the Leica has an impressive catalogue of photos that were recreated in a beautiful tribute by F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi (Brazil), which won the Grand Prix at Cannes. The best film of 2014/15. Bravo Fabio. Bravo Leica.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nature’s Antidote to Urban Living

Getting out of the office or house and into nature is seen by many as an antidote to the modern world. Most urban environments don’t allow for a lot of green. We live in concrete jungles. We’re constantly on the move and instead of looking out, people are often looking down (at their mobile phones!). Given this, understanding and publicizing the benefits of interacting with nature is important, as it can do us a world of good.

RWF Cameron from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape, makes an observation that in the past, community leaders “had a greater understanding of the relationship between green space and wellbeing than subsequent generations of planners and designers”. Think Thoreau. Given the vast green spaces reserved for parks and gardens on prime real estate in some of the world’s biggest cities, would planners take the same approach today? I couldn’t imagine London without Hyde Park, Paris without the Jardin des Tuileries or NYC without Central Park.

Public parks and gardens provide a refuge from the hubbub of a city and bring people together. Studies have shown that there is a significant decrease in crime rates and violent behavior in urban areas with surrounding green space. Easy access to parks and gardens also opens the door for improved brain function, with a study of students in Michigan discovering that cognitive performance was greater after walking through a tree-lined arboretum, compared with a busy city street.

There are obvious benefits from getting out and about in nature, such as calories burned and vitamin D gained. At a societal level, adopting gardening as part of a healthy lifestyle strategy is claimed to provide at least a £5 health benefit for every £1 spent. In healthcare environments, gardens and natural spaces provide a hint of normality, with patients, visitors and staff reaping benefits from active experiences (such as horticulture therapy) as well as inactive experiences, such as simply being able to sit (or play) in a natural environment. Even just the act of looking out at a garden through a window has benefits. A study of patients in a Pennsylvania hospital found that patients in a hospital room with a view of nature had better post-operative healing outcomes compared with patients who had a view of a brick wall. I know which one I’d rather be looking at.

In the general population, gardens and nature are important for well-being, and are linked to improved mood, reduced anxiety, social interaction, and increased inspiration and creativity. A Netherlands study that involved people completing a stressful task found that people who gardened afterwards were less stressed, compared with people who read indoors.

What springs to mind for me is nature’s ability to create an emotional response, which can make us withdraw, reflect and contemplate, or draw us out, by stimulating us with exhilaration and delight. As noted by Matthew Wilson, outgoing voluntary Chairman of Greenfingers Charity (which works with children’s hospices to create outdoor spaces), “There’s no shortage of proverbs, sonnets and poetry extolling the virtues of gardens and green space and how they make us feel.”

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Success On The Job

The notion of what it takes to succeed in the modern workplace is changing, according to a new poll.

The Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll showed that while most Americans thought that college was an important foundation for a successful work life, other factors were also considered “very important” for a good career. These included computer literacy, people skills and family connections. In the United States and other developed countries where college has “long been seen as a Holy Grail to a good life,” these findings are somewhat surprising.

Around half of people in the poll thought that a four-year degree was “very important” for a good career. Attributes that reflected amoeba-like abilities were also ranked highly in terms of career success, such as being able to work with different types of people, keeping skills current through training, being willing to work long hours and being willing to switch jobs/occupations.

The reality is that many jobs nowadays have a preference for both experience and a degree, and these findings reflect that. While having a degree won’t necessarily guarantee professional success, there’s a good chance it won’t impede it either, so it’s certainly not to be sniffed at.

But going to college isn’t just about getting a piece of paper or the degree to which that piece of paper might prepare you for the workplace. It’s about the experience. It’s not so much about what it teaches you but how it teaches you; to think, how to question assumptions, and problem-solve.

These are skills that you may well develop in the workplace, but if you’ve been to college, you’ll already have that in your arsenal when you get there.

Image attribution / source: Steve Wilson /

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Eudaemonia At The Movies

The clichéd Hollywood movie has been long associated with an optimistic ending. You know, the one where the protagonist gets what he wants, even if it wasn’t what he was looking for in the first place. What’s interesting is that movies that end on a bright note often don’t leave you feeling entirely happy. It is sad movies, however, that can boost happiness by prompting people to reflect on their own lives in a more positive way. People are often drawn to sad movies when they’re sad, so perhaps there’s something in it.

Aristotle coined a term for it: eudaemonia, which is “the meaningfulness, insight and emotions that put us in touch with our own humanity.” He acknowledged that far from driving us to become a society of Debbie or Donald Downers, eudaemonia can actually enrich us and perhaps even teach us something about ourselves.

Opinion columnist Jessica Alexander suggests it may be a cultural thing. While American films often providing an optimistic ending, Danish films are known for tragic or sad endings. They reflect the Danes’ perspective on life; that upsetting events are something people should talk about and learn from. Pondering this, I took to Google to find out how the Danes fared in the latest World Happiness Report. Denmark places at number three, behind Switzerland and Iceland. They’re obviously pretty happy (as a country). The United States comes in at number 15; New Zealand at number nine.

An article on Salon made an interesting observation about how some literary classics have fallen out of popularity with readers, possibly because more readers are opting for optimism nowadays. Add to this, that our penchant for seeing the world through rose colored glasses is well-catered to by the film and television industry, which ultimately (and understandably) want to please their audience.

But back to sad endings. Sure, they make us reflect and think that life could be worse. But as noted by Laura Miller, they also show us “that a great spirit is still great even when it doesn’t win, that aspiration, courage and hope, however doomed, are virtues in their own right.”

Image source: Festen /

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Team Of Teams

Can a team be ‘too strong’? It’s not the kind of question leaders ask, but it’s a question that should be considered. Strength can be a weakness if it is at the expense of the wider organization and its mission.

Joseph Grenny uses the phrase “tribalism trumps mission”, which is what happens if managers see their job as building ‘my team’ as opposed to building ‘the team’. It’s about seeing the bigger picture and connecting with it, instead of creating individual empires or tribes.

The irony lies in the fact that tribes aren’t necessarily a negative thing. Seth Godin argues that tribalism is in our nature. “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” It sounds like a strong team to me; a collection of individuals that form a cohesive whole, moving in the same direction, with the same ultimate aim. But there’s a balance to be struck between building a great team and making people understand and feel good about contributing to the big picture.

In an article on Harvard Business Review, Grenny provides advice on ‘tribe versus team’ in the form of four questions. I’ve abridged them as ‘this – not that’ here.

A team:
  • Describes team goals as means, not ends. A team understands how their tasks connect with the wider purpose; they don’t just operate in an independent bubble.
  • Frames its budget and resources as stewardship, not property. For example, a team that finds itself with extra money at the end of the financial year will offer it to other teams in need, instead of finding ways to spend it.
  • Refers to people outside the team as teammates, not competitors.
  • Is in free contact with people outside the team, not monitored.
Explaining not only the what, but the why of your business, enables the creation of a movement that everyone wants to be a part of. Businesses must be purpose-driven. Providing a purpose provides a basis for team alignment, and enables a team of teams.

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